Snacks #023: Diet Breaks, benefits and when to implement them

Mar 24, 2024

I’m going to outline all things diet breaks so that you can understand exactly what they are, their purpose, when they should be used and whether or not you’d benefit from them.

Diet breaks can be crucial to break up the monotony of dieting by giving someone a planned mental and physical reprieve from being in a calorie deficit.

The typical trajectory of a diet phase goes something like this:

The person feels MOTIVATED → starts new program/approach/challenge → crushes it for 1-3 weeks and gets good results→ has one day ‘off plan’ due to event, emotional stress or being unorganised & unable to stick to plan → this triggers the ‘f it’ mentality → overeats → falls off bandwagon → has more than one off-day → sees plateau in results and gives up.

This happens to MOST people, and I’d say it’s the most common thing leading to a failed diet. Not that a person’s diet itself was ‘wrong’, but the dieter can’t seem to pull themselves together after the ‘f it’ spiral.

Instead of following this chain of events yourself, you can read all about diet breaks to understand and implement them to your benefit.

Let’s dive in.

What, exactly, is a diet break?

A diet break is a planned period where someone returns to energy balance by intentionally eating enough calories to match their needs.

What are the benefits?

Diet breaks are proposed to offset the slight reduction in metabolic rate, the increase in hunger, and the reduction in satiety - all of these are effects observed with periods of energy restriction. Diet breaks would also provide mental relief and improve adherence to the diet when in a dietary phase.

But how true are these claims? Research on this has mainly been done in obese populations until recently; however, Siedler (et al., 2023) researched healthy-weight females split into two groups, to compare continuous dieting (6 weeks) with intermittent dieting ( 6 weeks plus 2 diet break weeks = 8 weeks total).


The results:

  • Resting Metabolic Rate stayed the same from the start of the diet to the end.
  • Scores did not change over time for measures of satiety, ease of sticking to the diet, or motivation to diet for the week ahead.
  • Weight loss was the same between the groups at the end.

The only difference between the two groups was that the continuous diet group experienced an INCREASE in disinhibition around food (not good), and the intermittent diet group experienced a DECREASE in disinhibition (this is good).

Disinhibition around food is the tendency to overeat due to different stimuli, like increased exposure to palatable food or emotional stress. As you can imagine, it's best to decrease your disinhibition and have more control over your response to food.

Decreased disinhibition during a weight loss intervention predicts successful weight loss over the course of a year (Cheng et al., 2014).

A note on applicability:

Although these findings are interesting, most people tend to diet longer than 6 weeks - so these results may be different over a more prolonged time period, or in leaner populations.

When do I use diet breaks with clients as a dietitian?

I don’t work with bodybuilding populations so for me, the reasons I implement diet breaks are more from a psychological and practical standpoint rather than clients requiring it for their metabolism after an extreme period of dieting with large deficits to get stage lean.

To put it simply, I mostly use diet breaks for these reasons:

  • Psychologically: when clients are getting sick of an extended deficit phase
  • Practically: requiring more freedom while they’re on holiday or out of routine
  • Motivationally: when losing motivation and adherence after 6-12+ weeks of dieting
  • Physically: if clients are experiencing higher levels of fatigue or poor recovery from exercise

Would you benefit from a diet break?

You could potentially improve your long-term results (via decreasing disinhibition around food) and your short-term mental health (if you struggle with a deficit).

However, the tradeoff is dieting longer to reach the same endpoint, as diet breaks extend the time to achieve a goal.

Is the tradeoff worth it for you?

I’d say it probably is, but you know yourself best, so consider whether it would be a good thing to trial in your next diet phase. 



Siedler MR, Lewis MH, Trexler ET, Lamadrid P, Waddell BJ, Bishop SF, SanFilippo G, Callahan K, Mathas D, Mastrofini GF, Henselmans M, Vårvik FT, Campbell BI. The Effects of Intermittent Diet Breaks during 25% Energy Restriction on Body Composition and Resting Metabolic Rate in Resistance-Trained Females: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Hum Kinet. 2023 Jan 20;86:117-132. doi: 10.5114/jhk/159960. PMID: 37181269; PMCID: PMC10170537.

Cheng, H. L., Griffin, H., Claes, B. E., Petocz, P., Steinbeck, K., Rooney, K., & O'Connor, H. (2014). Influence of dietary macronutrient composition on eating behaviour and self-perception in young women undergoing weight management. Eating and Weight Disorders-Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, 19(2), 241–247. 10.1007/s40519-014-0110-y 


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